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(photo credit: AP)
Iran presents "a danger to the entire world," President Shimon Peres warned the United Nations' General Assembly on Wednesday, a day after Russia effectively torpedoed chances of the body reaching agreement on a new round of sanctions on the country's nuclear development program.
"Teheran combines long-range missiles and short-range minds," Peres said in his formal address. "It is pregnant with tragedies."
Peres, who was greeted with warm applause as he took the podium, accused Iran of continuing to enrich uranium and develop long-range missiles to carry it - something Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent the past two days steadfastly denying in speeches, press conferences and in interviews with American reporters.
Ahmadinejad told CNN interviewer Larry King on Tuesday night that, on religious grounds, "we must be against the production and usage of any form of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons."
He also described Israel as "an uninvited guest, an occupier."
Peres, who responded Tuesday evening by accusing Ahmadinejad of using the UN as a platform for anti-Semitism, took a more eloquent approach Wednesday: At the end of his address, he paused and pulled a simple black yarmulke out of his pocket and fit it on his head, making clear that he was standing not just as a world leader but also as a Jew.
He recited a brief quote from Rabbi Nachman of Breslav expressing hope for the removal of war and bloodshed from the world, and wished the assembly a "shana tova."
UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said the move had been unrehearsed and had come as a surprise to her as she sat watching from Israel's seat.
"There is a terrible conflict between ideal and experience in the corridors," she told The Jerusalem Post after the address. "I saw the highest leaders greet Peres, he's greeted everywhere and is so well-known and appreciated, and on the other hand they applaud Ahmadinejad."
Others, including US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, echoed that view.
The Anti-Defamation League called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday to repudiate Ahmadinejad's statements.
"The repugnant ideas and prejudiced sentiment asserted by President Ahmadinejad must not go unanswered," executive director Abraham Foxman said in a letter to Ban. "We ask you to speak out against his vile words and denounce his outrageous claims and abuse of the UN platform."
Obama said in a statement late Tuesday that he condemned the Iranian leader's "outrageous" remarks and was "disappointed" that the UN had provided such a public platform for "hateful and anti-Semitic views."
Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin didn't include a meeting with Ahmadinejad in her packed schedule in New York this week, after having said in speeches that Ahmadinejad "must be stopped."
Yet it wasn't immediately clear what that would entail.
American Jewish leaders spent the week conducting their own shadow diplomacy through public rallies against Iran and in private meetings with world leaders.
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said he had heard fewer challenges to claims that Iran's nuclear program had military objectives, but said there wasn't any consensus about the best way forward.
"The issue is what to do about it in the time available," Harris said. "Some hope a new US administration will be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat."
In his address to the UN, Peres specified that it was not the people of Iran who were Israel's enemies, but rather the Islamic Republic's "fanatic leadership," who he accused of developing nuclear weapons and spreading a "religion of fear."
He noted also the country's funding of terror organizations, saying, "Iranian support for Hizbullah divided Lebanon. Its support for Hamas split the Palestinians and postpones the establishment of the Palestinian state."
Peres slammed Ahmadinejad's repeated questioning of the Holocaust, calling it "a mockery of indisputable evidence, a cynical offense to survivors of the horror."
The peace process with the Palestinians also came up. Peres expressed confidence that a "full peace" could be negotiated by the end of 2009.
"We tried to conclude the negotiations this year. It will take longer. But, I believe it can be accomplished within the next year," he told the General Assembly.
Peres also called on Hamas to immediately release kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, claiming that "holding a hostage in Gaza determines its isolation and further deterioration."
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